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Star Magnolia: Those of you living in colder areas may already be familiar with Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata. This magnolia is one of the best known species because it is very cold hardy (USDA Zones 4-8), widely adaptable and blooms when very small. Star Magnolia is a slow growing, broad spreading, small tree or large shrub, ultimately reaching 15 feet tall or more. Leaves may be 4-8 inches long and up to 3 inches wide. As a deciduous plant, the dark green leaves drop in fall, sometimes turning yellow before falling.
Star Magnolia flowers are 3 to 5 inches in diameter with 12 to 40 petal-like parts called "tepals." The overall effect of the tepals is that of a starburst, hence the name, "Star Magnolia." Flowers are white, although a few cultivars have pinkish flowers. Star Magnolia's characteristics have made it popular as a parent of many hybrids.
Saucer Magnolia: Saucer and other large-flowered hybrid magnolias are deciduous trees known for their spectacular display of flowers appearing before the foliage in late winter and early spring. They are considered some of our most beautiful flowering trees, and some cultivars are hardy into USDA Zone 4 while others are adaptable in warmer Zone 9. These deciduous flowering magnolias generally are considered small trees with slow to moderate growth rates. Smaller cultivars may be grown as large shrubs and some larger trees may eventually grow 40 to 70 feet tall. Tree shape characteristically is upright to rounded when young and becoming rounded or broad-spreading with age. The medium green leaves are oval to circular in shape and vary in size from 3 to 10 inches long and 2 to 10 inches wide. Leaves turn a nondescript yellow to brown before dropping in fall. The trunk has smooth, tan or grey bark and branches exhibit large, fuzzy flower buds.
The fragrant flowers open before the foliage and range in color from white to pink to purple. Often flowers display one color on the outer side of the tepal and a lighter color inside. Many different cultivars or varieties have been selected over the years. Characteristics vary with the cultivar but flowers range from 3 to 12 inches in diameter. Peak bloom usually occurs in early spring; because of this, flowers are sometimes damaged by frosts. Some cultivars produce flowers sporadically through the summer and fall. Reddish fruits sometimes develop in the fall.
Southern Magnolia: Residents of warm temperate climates (USDA Zones 7-9) may be familiar with the Southern Magnolia. This native of southeastern North America was first introduced to Europe in 1731, and quickly became popular because of its glossy evergreen foliage, large beautiful flowers and elegant form. Growing as a small to large evergreen tree, Southern Magnolia also was found to be widely adaptable to different climates, soils, and exposures. Thus, it was the first Magnolia to be planted widely as a street or shade tree and is now grown nearly worldwide wherever suitable climate and soils exist.
Southern Magnolia has glossy, leathery, evergreen, oval-shaped leaves that are 5 to 8 inches or more long and half as wide. The upper leaf surface is dark green and the lower surface is often covered by brown, dense, felt-like hairs. The fragrant white flowers are 8 inches in diameter, appearing in late spring and intermittently throughout the summer. The flowers are followed by reddish, 3- to 5-inch long, oblong-shaped fruits displaying red seeds ripening in late fall. This species is extremely variable in size, shape, habit, growth rate, canopy density, leaf color, and flowering season. This variability has allowed a large number of beautiful cultivars to be selected.
Southern Magnolia is used as a specimen plant, street tree, shade tree, screen or windbreak. This tree also can be grown as an espalier.